Washington Horror Blog

SEMI-FICTIONAL CHRONICLE of the EVIL THAT INFECTS WASHINGTON, D.C. To read Prologue and Character Guide, please see www.washingtonhorrorblog.com, updated 6/6//2017. Follow Washington Water Woman on Twitter @HorrorDC ....

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Soft Touch

Atticus Hawk's copy of Dick Cheney's memoir, "In My Time", sat squarely in the center of his desk, next to his canary yellow Justice Department legal pad full of notes. He had done nothing since 1:07 pm yesterday but analyze it--per the instructions of Attorney General Eric Holder after the Amnesty International protesters delivered it with a letter demanding that Cheney be investigated for the torture crimes outlined in the book. The book now had three red flags sticking out the side for incidences that Hawk (the Justice Department's torture specialist) believed could be investigated for show with a minimum amount of damage. The jacket cover of the book lay at the bottom of Hawk's shredder, where it was relegated after being vandalized by a mysterious interloper with a Sharpie who had changed the title to "In My Dick". (He suspected Ava Kahdo Green, but he really didn't care.) The hardback now sat unprotected and vulnerable, and if somebody took a Sharpie to it now, he would have to replace it--probably with his own money. The few hours of sleep he had snatched last night had been haunted by the orange jumpsuit-clad protesters, except their heads had all been replaced by raccoon heads with Dick Cheney eyeglasses on. The nightmare was precisely the sort of thing Ava Kahdo Green would feel triumphant in getting a man to confess, but he would take this secret dream to the grave. (She had teased him for three weeks after hearing about his nightmare of George W. Bush singing "Bad Romance" as a serenade to Osama bin Laden.) It never ends.

A few miles to the south, Glenn Michael Beckmann was sitting on his Southwest Plaza balcony. He was trying to read "In My Time", but it was very boring compared to the exciting stack of yard sale books he had recently purchased (for $3!) about Pol Pot. He really liked the idea of exterminating all the parasitic intellectuals with soft hands and eyeglasses! But he did not really understand the purpose of driving city-dwellers back into the Cambodian farm fields. Hell, if they weren't interested in growing food, they were just gonna end up growing marijuana or poppies! How would that help the Khmer Rouge? (But if he could adopt some of these Pol Pot ideas for the Hunter-Gatherer Society, it could really reenergize his troops.) He read a few more paragraphs from Cheney's book, but they all sounded the same--whining, whining, whining about every single instance when somebody disagreed with him in the slightest. Pol Pot wouldn't have whined! Pol Pot would have beaten them to death with sticks! Were Cheney's hands too soft to beat someone to death with sticks? The real estate demon living in the parking garage reached a tentacle up to Beckmann's balcony and poked him in the eye to remind him that Cheney also had eyeglasses. Then the real estate demon whispered, "Cheney's the one who's been leaving anonymous hate comments on your blog."

Several miles to the north, ex-CIA agent Henry Samuelson was also trying to slug his way through Dick Cheney's whiny book--which, to his reading, had no redeeming value except the tidbit about Condoleezza Rice's weeping in Cheney's office about making a public relations mistake. (First the Gaddafi photo journal about Condoleezza Rice's visit to Libya, now this!? Surely the Chair of the Heurich Society will finally concede it was a mistake to allow a woman into the Society!) If Cheney's biggest complaint about George W. Bush was that he only shortened Scooter Libby's prison sentence instead of pardoning the numbnuts, Cheney was the most delusional political leader this city had ever seen! And a wuss, too lazy to write his own memoirs without help from his lesbian daughter! Ambitious bitch, trying to ride his coattails to political office on a don't-close-Gitmo-the-terrorists-will-come-and-kill-us platform! Samuelson was proud of his own daughter--who didn't go around telling people about her sexuality or use her dad to advance her own career! Where is she, anyway? It suddenly occurred to Samuelson that he hadn't heard from Button in quite a long time.

Not far away, Button Samuelson was inside one of the condo buildings owned and managed by Caljohn Management, LLC. More precisely, she was making a secret inspection of the balcony of owners Golden Fawn and Marcos Vazquez after incessant complaints from "I'm a lawyer" Chloe Cleavage that it was a public health hazard. Samuelson took photos of the herb garden, petunia pots, hanging ferns, and tomato and pepper plants. Then she took a few photos of the Compost Cab container--which was the basis of the complaint. She had assured her boss (and occasional lover) Calico Johnson that her spook father had given her expert olfactory training from an early age, and she could smell anything, but there was no offensive odor leaking from the Compost Cab container; nor were there any insects anywhere near it. She pulled out her cellphone to telephone the Compost Cab company and get some more information, then wrote down on her steno pad: "The container is designed with a very tight seal, and we pick it up every week. It's the perfect composting system for apartment dwellers, and we'ver never had a complaint about it." Samuelson concluded there was only one reasonable explanation, which was that Ms. Cleavage, Esquire, saw the word "compost" from her own balcony and simply imagined the smell; there might also be an unreasonable explanation, namely that new owner Ms. Cleavage, Esquire, had already gotten in some kind of a feud with her neighbors and was looking for a way to attack them. This is my life? Samuelson shook her head and sat down on a patio chair to contemplate how she had ended up investigating decomposing produce for a living.

A few miles to the south, attorney Laura Moreno was also slumped in a chair contemplating how she had ended up with such a lame job and no exit strategy. She had recently had a glimmer of hope that she might get a Justice Department job, but her squeaky-clean Girl-Scout-like existence had failed to ensure a smoothe background check, and after weeks of being asked to submit fingerprints and the same paperwork over and over and over again, she had finally given up. Then she found out that a former Prince and Prowling contract attorney (the Braggart) was going around Washington telling everybody that Moreno had gotten her fired from Prince and Prowling, which was a complete lie. Now Bridezilla had been promoted to partner after her stunning, intellecutally average but politically connected, debt-ceiling intervention, and she and partner Cigemeier were in some kind of weird contest to assert influence over Moreno. In the latest skirmish, Bridezilla had sought Moreno's assistance in performing a quality check on the review done for a client which had recently sued another law firm for legal malpractice; Bridezilla had accompanied this work request with an Edible Arrangements bouquet and a notecard touting the anti-oxidants and fiber found in the fruit selection. Then Cigemeier had asked if she could work through the Labor Day weekend to help him run database searches in response to a Justice Department subpoena; Cigemeier had accompanied this work request with an invitation to connect to him on Linked In. Moreno couldn't do both unless she cut back on sleep in a most injurious way, and she had no idea how to go over two partners' heads to find out what the real priority was. Therefore, she had sent both partners an email asking if she could perform the work in their offices while they were out, since the workroom had the dead rodent-in-the-ceiling smell again, and she was waiting to see which partner came through for her. FOR HER! Then Moreno frowned, wondering if she was pushing her luck. A reply came back from Bridezilla first: "Of course! Also, I was thinking of setting you up with an old friend from law school. Interested?" Then her email in-box dinged again, and Cigemeier had written: "Of course! And I will contact Facilities about the rodent. That is unacceptable! And after the summer associates leave, there will probably be an office open on my floor." Moreno bit her lip and fretted.

A couple miles away, a raven alit next to Golden Fawn as she ate her lunch outside the National Museum of the American Indian. It told her there was a stranger on her balcony at home. "Is he evil?" Golden Fawn whispered. "She," the raven whispered, "is confused, but not evil." Golden Fawn thought about phoning her husband but decided to wait and see how things felt when she got home. She went back inside to her office, where a cart of newly catalogued Seminole tokens and fetishes were awaiting her gentle relocation to display cases; she could still feel the gentle summer breeze on her face all afternoon.

Out in the river, Ardua of the Potomac sulked in hatred of gentle summer breezes and remained in withdrawal from the thrilling ride of the hurricane. It's time for somebody to rile up this city again!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mother Nature Bats Last

Glenn Michael Beckmann was positioned a short distance from the Tar Sands Action crowd in Lafayette Park, behind a bush so that White House cameras could not pick him up. He peered through his binoculars to see if he recognized anybody in the crowd, but all these commie, save-the-Earth types looked the same: messy hair, old t-shirts, rumpled shorts, sensible shoes, backpacks, fannypacks. And children! They liked to bring their children, to corrupt them in their infancy. He muttered about their chatter he heard on his super hearing aid--blaming global warming for Hurricane Irene--and pulled out the poison blowdart he had been practicing with for days.

Several miles to the north, Marcos Vazquez was having a leisurely breakfast with his wife before reporting to the Coast Guard for what would probably be a 24-hour shift. He was uneasy about leaving her in the condo after the management company had identified some foundation cracks after the earthquake, but Golden Fawn kept saying they had probably been there all along. He was sipping coffee and watching the television coverage of Hurricane Irene while Golden Fawn was on the internet. He finally got up and walked over to the desk where she sat reading the latest update on www.tarsandsaction.org.

"You should have told me you were planning to get arrested," he said.

"It was a spontaneous decision," she answered without skipping a beat, as if she had been awaiting the question for days. "The civil disobedience is important. People have come from all over the U.S. and Canada to--"

"I know that," he interrupted. "The point is that I work for the U.S. Coast Guard, and now you have an arrest record."

"That's right," she answered. "You work for the U.S. Coast Guard, not me."

"It could inhibit your future life choices," he said.

"The tar sands pipeline will inhibit our future life choices more," she said.

"I know that," he said, with growing impatience. "Don't act like I don't know that!"

"I'm not sure you really do," she said. "It's a bigger threat than terrorists. You're going to be on a lot more hurricane watches, for starters."

"Don't oversimplify things!" he exclaimed, and she finally looked up from the computer, dismayed at the roughness in his voice. He immediately regretted it, melting at the sight of her pained expression. "I just mean we're married now: you need to consult me when you make big decisions like that. I would have consulted you! And I don't think it's worth it."

She had thought he knew, but now she realized he did not know how unbound she felt to the laws and governments of the United States of America. But her husband was bound, and she began pondering whether he felt personally insulted and disrespected by her decision. She searched his eyes in silence for a moment. "Next time I'll call you first," she finally said, standing up and taking him by the hand. "You'll be gone a long time--let's not fight anymore today." She kissed him and then led him back to the bedroom.

Over on Capitol Hill, Sebastian L'Arche and Becky Hartley had their hands full exercising their third pack of dogs today before the tropical storm blew in. Though every animal he had seen on Tuesday showed signs of distress during the quarter-hour before the earthquake, they were all completely oblivious about the much more threatening hurricane coming from the Atlantic Ocean. "I can't come to your hurricane party," Hartley was saying in her Bluetooth. ("You can go," L'Arche whispered.) "We're gonna have a house full of unhappy critters tonight." (L'Arche wasn't exactly sure if he and Becky were friends or business partners or both, but it still seemed strange to hear her talk about his pet operations with the word "we".) "I mean, he can only do the dog whisperer thing so much!" she laughed. "Some of those babies are just gonna wanna be in my lap!" (L'Arche nodded in involuntary agreement with this.) "Hey, why don't you bring the hurricane party to us?!" ("What?!") "It'll be like a Noah's Ark party!" ("Becky, uhh--") "Alright, but I think we're gonna have more fun than you will!" She clicked her Bluetooth and turned to L'Arche. "You think the basement will flood? You think we'll pick up more strays? Oh, I forgot to tell you, my daddy sent me a FedEx overnight package full of doggy Prozac if we need it--I told him you never use stuff like that, but he sent it anyway. Hey, Seb, what do you think the hurricane will do to...you know?" (She made what he interpreted to be a monster face.)

"The demons?"

She laughed nervously. "Yeah!"

"They'll like it a lot."

A few miles to the south, Ardua of the Potomac was watching bemusedly as Washington Post Metro reporter Perry Winkle towed along some teenagers on an Urban Guerrilla Field Trip to the Anacostia to see the oil spill. "Scientists have been taking samples for two weeks, but they have not yet identified what it is," Winkle said, paddling the rowboat a little closer to the shore.

"How can they not know what it is? What about DNA and all that jazz?"

"Well, they were running standard tests first, expecting it to be some type of petroleum mixture, or a common chemical. DNA testing costs a lot," said Winkle.

"Why don't the Post do the DNA test? You can have investigative reporting, somethin' like that."

"If I had the budget, believe me, I would!" said Winkle.

"Well you can't just let it sit there for weeks, and nobody knows what it is! That's crazy!"

"Yes, it is," said Winkle. "That's why I brought you to show it to you. We don't know what it is, and twelve hours from now, it might be sprayed all over southeastern Washington. That's enough photos--save some for after the hurricane, kids!"

Suddenly a Coast Guard boat came around the bend of Kingman Island, and Winkle knew their time was up--the kids had to go home, and he had to start another shift of reporting on empty bread and water shelves at the grocery stores.

Many miles away, television reporter Holly Gonightly had completed her own mandatory piece on empty store shelves and was now filming another piece on the denizens of Dupont Down Under. They were asking, as always, when they were gonna be on television, and, as always, she told them she could not guarantee it. "It's not your fault," she always said. "Sometimes the producer just has other pieces he thinks are more newsworthy." Gonightly had been trying for months to lose weight so that she would not be TFFT (too fat for television), but all she accomplished was seeing her fat move around from face to arms to thighs, and then back to her face. She had gotten a lot of air time when she first began reporting on the found Rolex, but as time went by and nobody stepped forward to claim it, the producer stopped airing the story. "I really think this time it'll happen!" she said to the denizens of Dupont Down Under. She was almost giddy with the thought of how catastrophic it would be for a torrential tropical monsoon to sweep into the tunnels, destroy their meager belongings, and leave several people dead--maybe even Afghanistan War veterans! Her cameraman indicated they were rolling, and she turned to the Fearless Leader. "This is Holly Gonightly reporting from Dupont Down Under, a hundred feet below Dupont Circle. Shouldn't you evacuate to higher ground?" Her eyes were gleaming in anticipation of his insane answer.

"We've survived worse," Fearless Leader said. (Gonightly stifled a laugh. No, I don't think you have!) "We've succeeded in reconciling with The Beaver, and he's building a dam for us to keep the water out."

"One dam?" Gonightly asked. "Isn't there more than one way water can get down here?"

"Well, uhh...." Fearless Leader looked around in panic. "I think The Beaver knows what he's doing."

"What if he's double-crossing you?" asked Gonightly, and her cameraman gave her a puzzled look, but she didn't notice.

"No, no! He wouldn't do that! We're reconciled!"

Gonightly turned back to the camera. "Dozens of homeless people living beneath Dupont Circle are depending on 'The Beaver' [she made air quotation marks at that point] to build a 'dam' [more air quotation marks] to save them from Hurricane Irene." (She liked having an excuse to raise her hands and show off the [cursed] Rolex.)

"I have an Aunt Irene," Fearless Leader suddenly interjected. "I had a dream about her last night, and she said everything will be fine!"

"Everything will be 'fine' [air quotation marks]," said Gonightly, "according to 'Aunt Irene in the dream' [air quotation marks]."

The cameraman turned off the camera. In normal times with only a few hours of television news per day, a story like this did not have a chance, but the station would be programming hours and hours and hours of hurricane coverage, so maybe it would.

A few miles to the south, Dizzy was visiting Lafayette Park to try to rake in a little more cash before the storm blew in. "This is a song called, 'Mother Nature Bats Last'. I wrote it in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina." (That was a lie, but he knew he would get more money from saying it.) He pulled out his trumpet and started playing a song he had renamed about a dozen times since writing it twenty years earlier.

"Oh, God!" Glenn Michael Beckmann ripped his super hearing aid out of his ear and hurled it far away. "Oh, God!" The poison blowdart was now on the ground, and he was staggering away, overwhelmed by the amplified trumpet blast that had bombarded his ear drum. "Oh, God!" Several protesters turned for a moment to see the pudgy and balding man in green army surplus fatigues stumbling away from them, but they were soon distracted by a seven-year-old girl who started making up words for Dizzy's song.

"Mother Nature Bats Last. She's pretty, and she's fast." (The girl twirled around as the people clapped.) "Mother Nature Bats Last. Mother Nature Bats Last. She's the mommy!" Then her mother detected the raindrops starting to fall and reached out for her daughter's hand.

Up in the Lafayette Park trees, the sparrows were silent, contemplating the White House ghosts keeping vigil over a somber President Obama and an increasingly soggy White House.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Staring Down Death

Fen Do Ping of Bo-Oz (Booz Allen Hamilton's edgy and secretive consulting arm) was running through his Angolan slide show for the staff of International Development Machine. "Here's graduation day at the midget academy," he said, as the staff saw a photo of three little people in caps, gowns, and AK47 holsters--nobody smiling for the camera. "Here's the day the flour sacks fell off the delivery truck," he said, as the staff saw a dozen photos of Angolans covered in white powder swarming all over the dropped sacks, then hauling them off on bicycles, motorcycles, cars, or on foot. "Here's a man who jumped off a bridge to avoid police capture, impaled himself on the spiked fence below, and lost his head," he said, as all the women and several of the men in the room stifled their gag reflexes. "Here's an unearthed grave of half-burned corpses from the civil war--they were found when an oil services company was asked to clean up a site contaminated with petroleum." This was too much for three women, who left the conference room at this point, and IDM president Augustus Bush shook his head at their weakness. "And here's a video of a crazy man on top of a train," Ping said, and several people exhaled, believing he was concluding the slide show with something humorous to lift their spirits--until a gunshot rang out and the crazy man abruptly fell down. "At first I thought somebody had shot him, but then I figured out he had accidentally shot himself." Liv Cigemeier felt like she was in a bad dream--nothing can be real. "What do these all have in common?" Ping asked, as he ended the slide show with a map of Angola illustrated with offshore oil well symbols. "These people stared death and destruction in the face through 25 years of civil war, and all they care about now is survival." Augustus Bush nodded and looked around the room to see if his staff was getting it. "They have gobs of oil, no Islamic terrorists, and millions of people that need jobs and housing. Where's the oil money going?" He passed around a dossier full of bios on the government oil oligarchs responsible for siphoning off most of the oil profits in Angola. "Does everybody know what's going on? Yes. Does anybody care? Yes, but nobody of consequence." He passed around copies of a report on how much money Goldman Sachs had made after just a year of financing Cobalt's venture into Angola.

"And how can International Development Machine fit into this picture?" asked Augustus Bush, who could not understand why it was so hard for this Chinaman to get to the point.

"All you need is one Angolan who has put away enough money for himself and is now craving power. Touching the President is out of the question, but there are other ways to gain power." He started a new slide show about Francisco Alexandre Miguel Soares da Costa. "Reputedly worth twenty billion dollars, recently divorced, spending most of his time in Portugual and France, rumored to be anxious about his failing relationship with his grown daughters--[Ping noticed Bush stifling a yawn]--ripe for the picking." ("Picking?" somebody asked.) "We're gonna make him a star: 'Casas da Costa', a new city built from scratch north of Luanda, low-income housing designed and built under the direction of International Development Machine, with patronage from the likes of Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, and Mandy Moore." ("They'll be involved in this project?") "No, but those are the prototypes--we'll find people like them. Francisco will start building up his international reputation, his daughters will organize the grateful residents, Casas da Costa will serve as Francisco's political base, and International Development Machine will be on the ground floor of the operation that could eventually lift this man to the top of the Saudi Arabia of West Africa."

"So the low-income people will get housing?" asked Momzilla, and Ping nodded emphatically. "That's wonderful!" she said, smiling broadly at her boss and pushing the ugly death images out of her mind.

Bush singled out Momzilla and three other people to stay behind (the only ones who had gotten through the presentation without grimacing, frowning, or giving Ping dirty looks) and released the others. Liv Cigemeier felt a little queasy as she walked back to her desk and phoned her husband to tell him about the ghastly presentation.

A few miles to the east, Rani saw the approach of Angela de la Paz and ran over to greet her. Angela smiled and petted the donkey, who ignored the ghastly aura emanating from the girl and nuzzled her as affectionately as ever. Dr. Devi Rajatala put down her bark sampling kit, and the National Arboretum scientist also walked over to greet the girl. "What a long time it has been!" exclaimed Dr. Raj, and Angela smiled sadly, unsure what to say. "Come! Come! I have raspberry tea." She pulled Angela over to the grove she was examining and handed Angela the unopened and only bottle of raspberry tea she had.

Angela took a few sips, then pulled out a package from her backpack. "I have something for you, too," Angela said, and handed Dr. Raj a wooden tree carving. "It's tipa wood, carved into a tipa tree." Dr. Raj ran her fingers over the fine workmanship. "It's from Argentina--I took a vacation there." Dr. Raj knew that tipa was from Argentina, but she had a lot of other questions on her mind. "And this is for you, too," Angela said, and she handed Dr. Raj a jewelry box full of loose diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. "I thought you could design your own jewelry...or...whatever." (Angela wanted to pay Dr. Raj back for all she had done for Angela and Angela's mother, but she couldn't just hand a pile of cold cash to somebody like Dr. Raj.) "Don't ask where they came from--they're not all from the same place. I've been all over the Middle East, and Africa, and Asia, and then South America." Angela looked around in amazement at this small man-made forest world that used to seem so immense and wild to her. "I missed you," Angela said, and this was true, so Dr. Raj pulled her tight and held her for a few minutes."

"I can see the pink warblers now, Angela!" Dr. Raj said, and she pointed to a nearby tree branch. Angela saw it, too, but the bird was silent and confused.

Back downtown, Liv Cigemeier's husband finished their phone conversation and turned back to his pile of papers. He worked his ass off as a partner at Prince and Prowling, in large part so that his wife could work for peanuts at a nonprofit, and he was tired of her increasing complaints about what was going on there. If it was so bad, why didn't she just quit? ("Where would I go?") He dropped his pen at the unexpected sound of her imagined voice inside his head and realized there might be no place else for her to go. "Shitty world." He picked up a half-eaten muffin and hurled it vehemently into his trash can, thinking about the contracts he had written for Goldman Sachs and the Cobalt venture in Angola--which he could not mention to his own wife. "Because I'm not supposed to or because I don't want to?" he whispered to himself. He thought about all the crazy little schemes they had talked about starting--the Sleepbox franchise, the House of Pies, the gerbil wheel commuter train, the helping animals training academy, the boat-to-the-beach service--and wondered why they were still doing the things they did.

Several miles to the north, the Warrior was also contemplating why he was still doing the things he did. He had seen 400 years come and go, and did not know the reason for most of the things he had seen and done, nor why he was still alive. He sat crossed-legged on an austere grassy lawn and stared at the ghosts circling restlessly in the sky above Walter Reed Medical Center. Some of them had been there for decades; a few, for a hundred years. The Shackled had arrived to counsel these lost souls on the benefits of letting go, forgiving and forgetting, moving into the light, but angry ghosts do not make good listeners. He looked up with no surprise at the arrival of Angela de la Paz, who sat down silently beside him. "They are closing this hospital down," he said. "It served many warriors...and many more who were never meant to be warriors." Angela nodded, and he knew that she now knew what it meant to be a warrior. "Sometimes they failed." She nodded again. "You are weary from fighting many battles," he said.

"Eeteebsse fought most of them," she said, pulling a small package out of her backpack. "I brought you something," she said, and handed him a tribal knife from Tajikstan. "It's a new knife--never used before."

He thanked her and examined the intricate workmanship. He could see it was sharp, but he tested it on a blade of grass anyway. "How long were you with Eeteebsse?"

She remembered the day she had ripped Eeteebsse out of the womb of Ardua of the Potomac like it was yesterday. "Until two weeks ago," she said. "I used him to kill a lot of evil people." She was silent for a couple of minutes, but the Warrior made no reply. "Then he got too large and too hard to control. I buried him in the Himalayas. I thought about killing him, but maybe somebody else can figure out how to control him. He won't grow while he's frozen."

The Warrior shook his head. "You can't fight evil with evil," he said. He had repeated the lesson at least a thousand times during his lifetime, but its simplicity belied its veracity, and so it was rarely heeded.

"You do," she said.

"That's what you think I do?" he said.

"You kill," she said.

"I defend," he answered.

"That's just semantics!" she said.

"And that's just something you do not understand yet, young one," he answered, and she bristled. "Yes, you are still a young one! Do you think killing has made you grow up? When you grow into what somebody else wants you to be, that is not growing up."

"Well, I saved a lot of lives--a lot of helpless women!"

The Warrior put his arm around her and pulled her head to his head. "That is why I am proud of you."

Several miles to the south, Glenn Michael Beckmann departed his apartment at Southwest Plaza, the whisperings of the real estate demon fresh in his mind: "I'm proud of you, Glenn! I'm proud of you, Glenn!" He broke out into a sweat in the hot, humid air, and walked with brisk irritation to the Waterfront Metro station. A young couple with a baby in a stroller were blocking the entire escalator, preventing him from walking down. He stood motionless for a moment as they prattled on about making baby food from their organic garden, then he reached out with both hands to shove them all out of his way. He watched in satisfaction as the screaming couple and stroller bounced helplessly down the escalator, then he walked briskly down the escalator stairs. He stepped over the family at the bottom and hurried to the train platform, eager to get on with his day.

****************
NEXT WEEK: Glenn Michael Beckmann versus tarsandsaction.org.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In Flux

Charles Wu opened up the carry-out containers in the backroom of Lynnette Wong's Chinatown herb shop, and Mia scooped food out for him, herself, and Wong. It was the first time Wu had seen Mia since the week he dropped her off, and he was pleased to see she had put on some weight and the dark circles were gone from her eyes. He knew that former Senator Evermore Breadman and the Secretary of State were both anxiously awaiting their respective China trip reports, but somehow visiting Mia seemed more important right now (and less stressful) than explaining the complexities of Chinese lending attitudes or the hits and misses of Project R.O.D.H.A.M.'s forays into Afghanistan. Then there was Angela de la Paz--whose violent jaunts through Taliban country had taken out quite a large number of misogynists, but whose mysterious and supernatural methods had created another backlash against women as weak-willed pawns of Satan. He was one of very few people who even knew who she was, what she looked like, and where she came from, but even he was at a loss to explain the efficacy, brutality and lethality of her operations--nor her abrupt departure. One thing he did know was that he would have to tell Hillary Clinton that recruiting Angela to jump from Project Cinderella to Project R.O.D.H.A.M. would be as pointless as asking a hurricane to reverse its rotation.

Wong popped into the back room to grab a few bites of food, her eye on the video monitor showing whether anybody was entering the store. Wu showed them photos from the touristy bits of his trip, and presented them with silk scarves from Shanghai and the jade bracelets his mother had chosen for them during his brief layover in Hong Kong. Wong told Wu that Mia was dutifully meeting with her English tutor (paid for by Wu) several hours a day and making excellent progress. (Wong herself always spoke to Mia in Chinese because Wu wanted Mia's Chinese to improve and did not want Mia to learn accented English.) Wong told Wu that she took Mia out for long walks and excursions when the shop was closed, and her nervousness was diminishing, but Wu could still see quite a bit of anxiety in Mia's eyes and could only conclude he was the cause of it. She thinks I want something from her, but it's not what she thinks. In truth he didn't want anything from Mia for a long time, and she had already given him great value without even knowing it, but half a world away, he had realized what he could make Mia into. He also knew Mia would have to want it for herself, or she would end up like Angela de la Paz--and that would not be good for either of them.

Several miles to the south, Chloe Cleavage's life was also in flux. For one thing, she was high on Vicodin to deal with the pain from the operation to remove all her eggs--high as a kite! She was standing on the balcony of her Southwest Plaza penthouse, merrily throwing unwanted belongings over the railing and watching them crash to the ground below. Old shoes, frying pans, books, notes from law school, baskets, a broken clock radio--all hurled eight stories down. She dropped a limed flower pot and jumped up and down in glee as it shattered into hundreds of pieces below. Sure, sometimes people in her building put reusable items out in the hallway by the elevator for other people to adopt and take home, but this was all JUNK! She wanted it out of her life, just like the eggs!

In truth, she had let the doctor (they call these people "doctors"?!) save a few in a freezer just in case she ever decided it was time for a baby, but she had sold the rest to him for a cool million dollars. A million dollars!!! It was surreal. He had run some genetic tests on her which would show to buyers her lack of any problematic gene markers--not to mention the desirable qualities in her hair color, eye color, body frame, and body fat ratio. (It was true her boobs were fake, but the buyers wouldn't know that from her photo!) She had already purchased a foreclosed condominium at auction (also while high as a kite, but nobody seemed to mind!) and paid a taxi driver in a van usually used for airport luggage to take her up to Kensington and then Frederick for an impulsive run of antique shopping. The eclectic piles of Queen Anne, Regency, and Colonial furniture were the reason she had to throw out a bunch of other stuff fast--that and the imminent arrival of the movers tomorrow. She was proud of herself for finding the condo at auction without the help of her on-again, increasingly off-again, realtor boyfriend Calico Johnson, and she wasn't even going to tell him about her departure from this stupid loft he had found her in this stupid building filled with criminals, crazy people, mold, vermin, broken elevators, arsonists, and missing security guards. "NO!" she hollered out at the parking lot below as another flower pot shattered eight floors below her--this time next to Glenn Michael Beckmann, who howled in rage, pulled out his handgun, and aimed it up at his assailant. "Plppppppp!" she sputtered at him with her tongue stuck out and her fingers waving in the air. "Shoot THIS!" she hollered as she rained old throw pillows down on him, and Beckmann obliged by shooting all of them until exploded fluff was falling like snowflakes all over the sidewalk, bushes, and parked cars, and the real estate demon living beneath the building was shaking with laughter.

A few miles to the west, former Senator Evermore Breadman had his own mess to clean up at Prince and Prowling, where a very high Chloe Cleavage had spray-painted "Roatan", "The Nines", "Wall of Me", and "Sir Digby Chicken Caesar Salad" all over his collection of framed photos on the wall outside his office. The security guards were trying hard to keep a straight face as they surveyed the damage and explained to Breadman how they would review the record of entries into the building since he had last been to his office Friday evening. After they finished photographing the scene, he took down the framed pictures and put them in a pile in the corner of his office. He shook his head at the photo on the top of the pile--him and Rupert Murdoch covered in purple smears--and sat down to review his campaign consulting files after the bizarre Iowa caucus. (If he had a thousand dollars for every time somebody had called to say "anyone but Bachmann!"--wait, he DID have a thousand dollars for every time!) He was consulting with almost everybody (and their fan club Super Pacs) east of the Mississippi river, but at some point he was only going to be effective by narrowing his focus. But who? If only he could find a candidate more like...himself.

Back in Chinatown, Charles Wu bid goodbye to Mia in the backroom, and Lynnette Wong walked him slowly to the door of her herb shop. "There was a reporter while you were gone," she whispered, and Wu grabbed her wrist. "Holly Gonightly--she's on TV sometimes. She knows that Mia came from Congressman Herrmark's house. She accused me of human trafficking, but we convinced her that wasn't true."

"Why didn't you tell me?!"

"You were in China."

"I know I was in China!"

"Well, we convinced her it wasn't true, and she left, and she hasn't reported anything."

"That just means she's going to dig deeper, and take a wider look!"

"Well, we're not doing anything wrong! Mia is safe here, and I think she's happy--well, she's not UNhappy."

Wu finally let go of Wong's wrist. "Let me know if anything else happens. But Mia knows her story, right? She's Chinese and--"

"She knows," said Wong.

Wu nodded, but walked out with a knot in his stomach and hailed a taxi to head over to Prince and Prowling.

Overhead, a flock of starlings was flying from east to west, the intermittent sunlight dancing off their iridescent plumage without penetrating their blackened spirits.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Coming Back

The Camelot Society of the Federal Reserve Board had always been a sober group until now, but when economist Luciano Talaverdi pulled champagne and orange juice from his cooler, nobody turned him down. (The sales girl had asked him what he was celebrating, and he had said, "It's a new year.") Fen Do Ping was visiting for the first time since he had been unceremoniously "furloughed", and he merrily helped himself to a mimosa and a plate heaped with pastries. Ping never worried about the big picture anymore, and was telling everybody his new insights about the "invisible hand" and how well the economy would be doing if everybody just focused on earning money for themselves, like his coworkers at Booz Allen Hamilton. "Earning, earning, earning!" he kept saying. "This is what I was trying to explain before--it can't be about liquidity! Liquidity is an illusion--it is like building a water pipe without paying any attention to where you are going to get water!" (Obi Wan Woman gave Talaverdi a stern look, but in these times of uncertainty, Talaverdi had insisted that they needed to start thinking outside the box.)

"What about Standard & Poor's?" somebody asked.

Ping shook his head. "Parasites!" he hissed. "Those agencies gave AAA ratings to mortgage-backed derivatives that were worthless! Who takes them seriously now?"

"Everyone!" exclaimed Obi Wan Woman.

"The government should have indicted all of them!" shouted Ping, getting more animated from the champagne. "In China, their leaders would all be in prison or dead for treason!"

"Ping!" exclaimed Talaverdi, kicking him under the table.

"Yes, yes, well, we are in America, I know! They have a First Amendment right to say whatever they want about the credit worthiness of this great country, so you are playing a losing game with them. You have to stop fighting for liquidity and start fighting for earnings!" He pulled out copies of a Booz Allen Hamilton report prepared for a mysterious client in Los Angeles and said, "you can't tell anybody where you got this!" (He had redacted all the Booz Allen Hamilton references.) He then passed out the report, entitled "Ninety Million Young Asians Are Ready to Immigrate to the United States: Gentlemen, Start Your Taxing Engines!" (Obi Wan Woman's mouth dropped open, and a half-chewed piece of croissant fell out into her lap.) "I also have a study on tax revenue from legalizing marijuana, but that has already been delivered to the Treasury Department. I am giving you first crack at this one!"

In the basement, two stories below the Research Library where the Camelot Society was meeting around the round table, Sebastian L'Arche had been called back to work again with the troubled yellow labrador. I don't understand what I'm guarding! the dog whispered to L'Arche. There are dark forces here--ghosts and goblins!--but they have me sniffing copier paper deliveries and Verizon technicians! Madness, madness everywhere! They took me to Master Bernanke's office three times last week just to play with him because he was so distraught! I tried to warn him, but he couldn't understand me! L'Arche had been staring silently into the motionless dog's eyes for a good five minutes, and the FRB police officers were pacing restlessly. How can I protect Master Bernanke? If I bark, they look for explosives. They don't see what else is there! L'Arche nodded his head, then pulled the dog close to whisper in its ear: "Master Bernanke does know, but sometimes you cannot run away--sometimes you have to stay and stare down the demons." The dog lay down, dejected and demoralized, and L'Arche lay down next to the dog, nose-to-nose. "Everybody has their job to do, and yours is to look for explosives. You are just one dog--you cannot protect everybody from everything, even if you want to. But you can do your job!" The dog exhaled deeply, licked L'Arche a few times, then stood up at attention. L'Arche arose, told the officers that the dog would be fine, but if they didn't mind, he would stop by once a week just to check on the dog. They nodded, he patted the dog on the head, and then he departed.

Several miles to the east, Atticus Hawk also had his job to do, and no matter how hard he tried to change it, he was still the Justice Department's torture specialist. He was on his upteenth reading of U.S. District Judge James Gwin's ruling against Donald Rumsfeld handed down on Tuesday, and his recent vacation was already a distant memory. "The court finds no convincing reason that United States citizens in Iraq should or must lose previously declared substantive due process protections during prolonged detention in a conflict zone abroad." Hawk rubbed more lime on the space between his thumb and forefinger, sprinkled salt on it, and sucked it. "The stakes in holding detainees at Camp Cropper may have been high, but one purpose of the constitutional limitations on interrogation techniques and conditions of confinement even domestically is to strike a balance between government objectives and individual rights even when the stakes are high." Hawk repeated the lime juice and salt ritual he had adopted on vacation and shifted his gaze to the other side of his desk, where he had the photo and dossier of the lawsuit's unnamed U.S. citizen trying to hold Donald Rumsfeld personally responsible for his imprisonment and torture in Iraq after serving as an interpreter with a military contractor. Army veteran, Hawk snorted. Why do they always trot that out, like it proves they're innocent patriots?! He left the Army to make more money! He snorted again, and repeated the lime juice and salt ritual.

"You need to stop doing that," Ava Kahdo Green said, after opening his door without knocking, and he raced to cover up his papers. "Your blood pressure's gonna go up from the salt." She sat down in his guest chair and offered him some dried acerola. Not more health food, he groaned inwardly. (He could really go for his ex-fiancee's fried okra right about now.) "It can't be that bad," she said cheerfully, propping up her trendy gladiator sandals on the edge of his desk, not caring whether he could see up her skirt or not. "I'm a little bored with the Deepwater Horizon, to tell you the truth. What are you working on?"

"Oh, something even less interesting," he assured her, but his bloodshot eyes told a different story.

A few miles to the north, Angela de la Paz's bloodshot eyes told a different story: jet lag, fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia...and a residual allergic reaction to exotic explosive materials. She rubbed her eyes and looked over her shoulder at the dust being kicked up by the Meridian Hill futbol players, which was also not going to help. She turned back to read the plaque about the Joan of Arc statue, a gift from France. You're like Joan of Arc, she remembered Henry Samuelson telling her during her training in Kansas, and she had looked up Joan of Arc on the internet, but she had not understood until much, much later. The funny thing was, she knew now that it was just a bullshit thing he had said to her, not meaning it, but it was truer than he realized. She saw the pink warbler alight on Joan's head, but the bird was slow to sing her welcome-home song to Angela. The warbler cocked her head back and forth a few times, started a trill, then stopped, then flew away, and then came right back. Angela sat down on the ground and leaned her head against the stone, but found it only a few degrees cooler than the warm, damp air weighing her down. The pink warbler hopped down onto Angela's knee, and Angela stretched out her finger, and after a minute of contemplation, the bird hopped onto the finger, but remained silent. "I was supposed to get away from all this," Angela whispered to the bird. "But guess what? There are poor people everywhere. And men who beat women. And sick children. And knives and guns and drugs. And no matter how many bad guys you kill, it's never enough."

Henry Samuelson watched her talking to her own finger and approached cautiously. "Welcome home, Angela," he said, and she looked up in surprise--not surprise that he had found out she was home, but surprise at the rapidity.

"I'm on vacation," she said, as if that were enough to make him stop talking to her.

"I know things overseas have been very stressful, but it was you that took on all those extra, unauthorized missions. You still don't understand the big picture, Angela. That's why you need us to choose your missions for you." He could see anger building up in her eyes and decided that would be all he said today. "Why don't you take a real vacation," he said, "someplace away from here."

"It's all the same," she said flatly.

"Maybe everything is all the same in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but there are still some wonderful places out there! How about Hawaii, hmm?"

"I'll go to Norway," she said, because Norway was the first place she thought of that would be like the diametric opposite of Hawaii.

Samuelson nodded encouragingly, but wondered if she was going to try to assassinate the crazy mass-murderer of children. "OK, whatever you want! You deserve a vacation. I know somebody there who can teach you to ski." She decided to go to Argentina instead, but didn't tell him--he could find out later.

Two miles to the south, Golden Fawn sat crossed-legged in the Lafayette Park grass, facing the White House and praying for rain--not the rain that was already on its way from the clouds gathering in Virginia, but for a spiritual rain. "Something is wrong," she whispered to the raven sitting attentively in her lap. He's protecting Wall Street moneylenders and defendant Donald Rumsfeld and the military industrial complex. He's changed. She held amulets in both her hands, but she knew it was not enough: she had to get inside.

But you can get to Ardua of the Potomac, whispered the raven, and the girl is back--she can help you.

A catbird flew off to report to the demon in the river, only flinching a little at the screech of the raven behind it.